Since the start of March, pictures of farmers in vans distributing potatoes to queues of people have dominated the Greek media.
Producers of potatoes in the Pieria region decided to get rid of the middleman and distribute their potatoes at €0.25 per kilo instead of €0.60.
Almost everybody across the political spectrum, including the government and the mainstream media, has endorsed this “potato movement”, though for different reasons.
The strident and significant exception is the strong though diehard-Stalinist Greek Communist Party (KKE).
The far-left coalition Antarsya, for example, has declared: “These movements show that the fat cat middlemen and capitalist bosses are not invincible... Getting rid of the middlemen is an important step so that the producers and the consumers can cope with the attacks of the [EU/ ECB/ IMF] Troika and the national unity government”.
“It is patronising to describe it as the potato movement. It is directly connected with the needs of both the producers and the people who are on the brink of starvation and social deprivation and destitution. It is connected with the future.
“It carries images from the future. It reveals the tremendous potential opened up when the producers and creators of society's wealth take control over their products. All working class people can benefit by having access to cheap and good quality food”.
As Antarsya notes, the potato movement is connected and interlinked with the versatile, imaginative, and multiple forms of struggle developed during the last two years of Greek working-class struggle.
It is connected with the neighbourhood non-payment movement, first against road tariffs and bus fares, and lately against the new regressive property tax. It is connected with the movement of “indignant citizens” in the city squares. It is connected with all the small and big struggles in workplaces across Greece.
Yet the KKE has printed virtually an article a day denouncing the potato movement.
KKE explains the obvious — that the potato movement is not socialist collective farming; it operates within the framework of the capitalist society; it will not solve food high prices overall, or meets all of society's food needs.
Last week the KKE paper Rizospastis declared: “Pushed by the mainstream media and encouraged by the government, a propaganda campaign is developing that has as its aim to deceive working-class people and the small peasants… This propaganda is referred to as the potato movement
“The aim of the cheap-potatoes movement is identical to that of the 'indignant citizens' in the city squares. It is to try to mislead the poor peasants away from the agricultural unions, away from the fight against EU's Common Agricultural Policy, away from the fight against the monopolies...
“The feeding of the people, the production of cheap and good quality agricultural products, is a very serious problem that cannot be solved via activism, voluntarism and sporadic internet orders [the farmers involved take orders over the internet]...
“There is indeed a big gap between the price at which producers sell products to the middlemen and the price at which these products are sold to the consumer.
“But as long as the laws of the markets and the profits prevail the above problem cannot be solved...
“As long as capitalist relationships are present, exploitation will operate at every level against the people, independent of their status, pensioners, workers, unemployed, producers, consumers...
“Under a planned economy, the process of production and distribution of agricultural products will guarantee a satisfactory income for all producers, to cover their needs, as well as cheap and healthy food for all people, as well as new jobs. But that can only be achieved within the context of a workers' and people's government and economy”.
KKE's hostile stance against the potato movement is in line with its stances against the students and youth rebellion movement of 2008 and against last summer's movement in the city squares. It is in line with KKE's sectarian policy of separate demonstrations and protests during the general strikes.
It is in line with KKE's attempts to build separate neighbourhood movements, and its hostile stance towards any movement that is not politically and ideologically under the wing of the party. Deploying Stalinism and mechanistic conspiracy theory in classic form, the KKE declares that the potato movement is “directed by big capital, like the city squares movement”.
Recently KKE has backtracked a bit. Its secretary, Aleka Paparyga, has made a statement saying that there had been exaggerations in KKE's response, but the main points had been right.
The movement initiated in Pieria has now spread all over Greece, gaining momentum every day, with councillors and mayors being involved to facilitate it. In some areas it has been extended to other products such as honey and oil.
There is now talk of farmers directly distributing rice, flour, olive oil, beans, and lamb for Easter. The oil will be distributed at €3 per litre (€6 per litre in supermarkets), flour at €0.50 per kilo (€1 in supermarkets), rice at €0.70 per kilo (€3 in supermarkets), beans at €3 per kilo (€8 in supermarkets), lamb at €7 per kilo (€13 in the butchers).
It all started a couple of months ago, when the producers of milk and fruit were protesting against the EU's Common Agricultural Policy outside parliament. Instead of throwing their products at the parliament and ministry buildings, as customary in previous protests, they decided to distribute them free in Syntagma Square.
Their move gained overwhelming support, and all the products were distributed to the people within a space of a few hours.
With the economically active population earning monthly wages of €500 and €600, over one million unemployed, and 20,000 homeless people in Athens alone, of course distribution of free or cheap agricultural products results in massive responses from the people.
Alongside the potato movement there are the not-so-publicised “alternative networks of product exchange” in which people are swapping possessions, and the “social kitchens” where people are sharing resources in cooking and offering food to the destitute and unemployed. Other unpredictable forms and ways of dealing with basic needs for foods and shelter will be developed by the movement.
The left should not underestimate the danger of these movements being incorporated by the establishment, as a peaceful charity appendix of the government's cuts, or channelled into reformist ideas and illusions about building oases of freedoms within the capitalist system.
But these movements, with their massive appeal, also carry potential to be a first step towards a concentration of forces and the building of a massive working-class movement with radical characteristics.
For that, they need to be linked with the trade union movement and the workplace struggles, and with the neighbourhood community movements, and given clear political direction by the left.
• Redistribute the land owned by the church and the big farmers to the peasants
• Create agricultural cooperatives under peasant and social control, with representatives elected, accountable to, and recallable by general meetings
• Nationalise the fertiliser and farm machine industries under workers' social control
• Coordinate food policy and agricultural production on the basis of Greek society's needs and respect for the environment.